UPDATE: Engine change knocks polesitter Castroneves to 11th

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UPDATE (9:35 p.m. ET): After setting a new track record in single-lap qualifying, Helio Castroneves went on to lead every lap of tonight’s third 50-lap heat race at Iowa Speedway – earning the pole position for tomorrow’s Iowa Corn Indy 250.

However, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner will have to start 11th on the grid for the race because of an engine change on his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. As explained by Penske Racing president Tim Cindric on Twitter, the No. 3 team installed a fresh Chevy engine for Indianapolis but now must re-install the previous motor – which, according to Cindric, “had a problem” – and run it to the mileage threshold of 2,000 miles.

As a result, Castroneves’ teammate, Will Power, will start first on the grid tomorrow with James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport on the outside front row.

Castroneves was among the six fastest drivers in single-lap qualifying that were waiting in Heat 3 for the top two finishers in both Heat 1 and 2. Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato (who will also be penalized 10 spots on the grid due to an unapproved engine change) made it out of the first heat, while Graham Rahal and Ed Carpenter transferred from the second heat.

But the third heat was all Castroneves.

“I’m very excited to be honest – the boys did a hell of a job, again,” the Brazilian said to the IndyCar Radio Network afterwards. “We learned a lot today, but obviously, tomorrow will be a different ball game. We’ll have more traffic and it’ll be a little bit hotter. There are a lot of things going on but I’m excited.”

It looked like Castroneves’ Team Penske teammate, Will Power, would mount a charge for the pole after passing James Hinchcliffe for second place on Lap 31 of 50. But Power ultimately opted to settle in for a runner-up result in the heat.

“We definitely had a good car,” Power told IndyCar Radio. “Got a bit of a problem with the tires…Maybe the car, we need to improve on a bit. All in all, it was very good. I kind of backed off at the end there. There was no use in attacking Helio. It’s just a qualifying position, so yeah, it was a good warmup for tomorrow’s race.”

As for Castroneves’ pursuer in the championship, Ryan Hunter-Reay had closed to within 16 points after his victory last weekend at Milwaukee. But the American driver was unable to advance out of the first heat, starting eighth and finishing fourth.

“We’ve been sitting on our own thumbs all day,” Hunter-Reay told IndyCar.com. The No. 1 DHL team will have to regroup because we’re starting buried in the pack. We gave up points today.”

IZOD IndyCar Series – Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by DEKALB
Unofficial Starting Lineup

Row 1
12-Will Power
27-James Hinchcliffe

Row 2
25-Marco Andretti
20-Ed Carpenter

Row 3
11-Tony Kanaan
15-Graham Rahal

Row 4
4-Oriol Servia
77-Simon Pagenaud

Row 5
98-Alex Tagliani
19-Justin Wilson

Row 6
3-Helio Castroneves*
1-Ryan Hunter-Reay

Row 7
55-Tristan Vautier
83-Charlie Kimball

Row 8
9-Scott Dixon*
5-E.J. Viso

Row 9
14-Takuma Sato*
6-Sebastian Saavedra

Row 10
7-Sebastien Bourdais
78-Simona de Silvestro

Row 11
10-Dario Franchitti
67-Josef Newgarden*

Row 12
18-Ana Beatriz*
16-James Jakes*

*10-spot grid penalty for unapproved engine change. Sato and Beatriz changed theirs before heat races, and Castroneves, Dixon, Jakes and Newgarden changed theirs after heat races.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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